Railway Sleepers How To Use Them For Raised Beds

Railway Sleepers for easily building raised beds in your garden that look amazing. Lock down has taught us all many things over the past eighteen months. Home schooling is hard, Zoom calls are tiresome and having a space to escape is really important. Most of us with gardens have started to pay far more attention to our outside spaces. When you have the choice of a house or a garden as your only location to go to, why not make them as pleasant as possible?

At Heritage, we’ve had conversations with so many people that we have been pleasantly surprised with how much happiness gardening can provide. Many of our customers wouldn’t have been able to tell their trowel from their turnips in 2019 but have developed into the layers of luscious lawns and wheel barrows full of bountiful veggie patches.

Railway Sleepers

Our team have all agreed that it’s been really rewarding to be able to deliver to our customers since the beginning of the pandemic. As keen gardeners ourselves, we’ve been really happy to see so many new people using their gardens as a way of escaping from the daily grind of lock down.

We believe that anybody is capable of creating and maintaining an attractive outside space if they have the confidence in their own abilities. However, some tasks can look more daunting than others.

Railway Sleepers are a slightly scary prospect to a novice or intermediate gardener. Heavy, long and large; sleepers may seem like a lot of work but the rewards that can be produced from some elbow grease and imagination can be astounding.

Raised Beds built by landscaper Marin Wood in Norfolk, England.

While we can’t help you with the elbow grease part of this combination (although we can recommend some excellent landscape gardeners) , we can hopefully help you come up with some creative and interesting ideas for your garden that involves both our softwood and hardwood Sleepers.

Firstly, let’s talk about the difference between softwood and hardwood sleepers. The main trade-off you’ll have to consider is cost against longevity. Hardwood railway sleepers will last longer but are dearer. Both our softwood and hardwood sleepers are pressure treated with the softwood sleepers lasting roughly 5-15 years and our hardwood sleepers lasting anywhere from 15-25 years depending on conditions and weather.

Both sleepers can be used for a multitude of attractive gardening projects that we will explore. Whilst it may seem tempting to go for cheaper alternatives such as pallets or thinner wooden planks, the sturdiness and long-lasting nature of sleepers makes them the best option for all manner of designs.

Railway Sleepers Raised Beds
A Raised Bed constructed out of Railways Sleepers.

Raised Beds

Both our hardwood and softwood sleepers are ideal to construct sturdy and attractive raised beds for your garden. As our sleepers are all cut to the same dimensions it allows you to create raised beds that are easy to stack and build. Alternatively, you can get out a saw and tape measure and be adventurous with your designs. Some of our more artistic customers have designed some really imaginative designs in tighter garden spaces.

Due to the fact they are pressure treated, our sleepers will also resist harsher weather conditions on their exterior whilst also being resistant to any topsoils added to the interior of a raised bed. Adding a layer of membrane is recommended however, as this will only help the sleepers last longer.

Railway Sleepers Used For Retaining Wall
An example of a raised bed made by one of our customers.

Retaining Walls

Another way that railway sleepers can be used in your garden is to use them to make a retaining wall. Sleepers offer an excellent alternative to using harder landscaping products such as concrete, breeze blocks or stone. It again comes down primarily to an aesthetic choice. Sleepers are a terrific method of allowing your garden to keep a rustic and natural charm as an alternative to a greyer modern design.

Sleepers can be laid either horizontally or vertically to create a retaining wall in your garden. Due to their durability but also their ease to cut to size, they work extremely well in all different areas no matter how small a space that needs filling. It should also be noted that railway sleepers will often be one of the cheaper ways to create a retaining wall. Specific stones and granites can be extremely expensive compared to sleepers. Picking sleepers will allow you to tighten the purse strings without giving up on the look of your garden.

As mentioned previously, for some of you the prospect of building a raised bed or retaining wall may seem slightly scary. Below is a video that we have recommended to our customers previously that they have often found really useful when setting out their summer projects.

Railway Sleepers for a bridge

Railway Sleepers can be used in a whole range of applications in your garden. Many National Trust homes use different railway sleepers in various projects on their estates.

This one from Lions Bridge at Attingham Park in Shropshire used Railway Sleepers in their project using volunteers to build the Lions bridge.

Art and Sculptures made from Railway Sleepers

Now we have explored the areas of your garden where sleepers will largely service a need for a practical, sturdy and attractive solution to gardening projects we can also examine some of the quirkier and artistic ways that people all across the globe can be creative and adventurous with railway sleepers.

I can assure that I am no artist, but looking at some of the things people have created for their gardens using sleepers is genuinely impressive. I’m sure many of you are not the artistic sort, but for those of you that are that way inclined, or simply fancy getting creative, here is some inspiration you may find useful.


Types of treated Railway Sleepers

There are two types of Railway Sleepers that can be used in different projects, with the two being untreated and green treated, with the latter sometimes being known as tanalised.

Untreated Railway Sleepers are typically the most commonly used for a variety of reasons, one of which being that they are arguably more aesthetically pleasing, and by having a softer tone to it than the treated version, can blend in better to existing gardens with an older or natural aesthetic.

Green treated, pressure treated or tantalized Railway Sleepers can look very good when used, as the clean appearance will make any garden or project look tidier and can easily catch the eye with its brighter appearance, which is especially helpful when used for flower beds with brightly coloured flowers.

The appearance of both Railway Sleepers can also depend on which protective coat has been applied. It is common with older sleepers that creosote is applied to preserve them from the harsh conditions of the British weather, however, this type should only be applied to projects where it doesn’t come into contact with human skin. Newer sleepers tend to have creosolve, which not only does an excellent job at preserving the appearance and function, but also is safe for human contact and is environmentally friendly at the same time! Both creosote and creosolve can come in a variety of colours, depending on the project or situation it is being used in, with some giving the Railway Sleepers a darker, older appearance which can appear more natural, and others with a grade that can brighten up the appearance.

New or Used Railway Sleepers - which should I choose?

Used Railway Sleepers are a great choice when used for projects that are in mind for longevity, as they tend to be made from hardwoods with the most popular being oak. Despite being made from hardwoods, which is dearer than softwoods, used sleepers are a lot cheaper than buying new ones. Older sleepers when used for projects in the garden can be a great way to incorporate a natural character.

New Railway Sleepers are more often than not made from softwoods, with popular choices being spruce or pine. Newer sleepers can be purchased that are made from hardwoods such as oak, but they do come at a higher price. Newer sleepers have a lot of benefits that can’t be found with older sleepers, the first being that they can be bought in more specific shapes and sizes, such as having rounded or sharp edges, this sometimes cannot be done with older sleepers, as they will have an uneven look due to the conditions affecting them over the years.

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